This time I was picked up from the Square in Grantown-on-Spey and taken to Aviemore by my friends in their car, mine left behind. Less than half an hour later they dropped me at a car park next to the official starting/ending point of the Speyside Way. It meant walking back for some time along the road I had arrived in Aviemore by, but I wanted to make the walk by the book. It turned out to be more pleasant than I’d expected, and comparing to the rest of the path ahead of me pretty safe underfoot. Five minutes into the walk I took off my fleece; never put it on again that day.
Soon the pavement ended and I carried on walking through a wide grassy shoulder between the road and a housing estate. The ground was covered with a rather thin layer of snow. A bit further on it thickened and the path turned into an ice rink: well-trodden, compacted snow, thawed on the surface and then re-frozen. The only viable alternative was walking along the path on its verge, where the snow wasn’t frozen over and gave relatively good support. To make the situation worse, very soon the path was going through pretty rolling terrain; not a problem without ice, but there was ice, and the slippery kind. Twigs hanging low and ground vegetation sometimes forced me to tackle the ice rink; it must have been a very funny view to any bystanders to see a tall man gingerly walking and swaying like a reed in the wind. The trickiest bit there was a descent towards the passage under the railway between Aviemore and Nethy Bridge, nowadays used only by the Strathspey Steam Train, a local tourist attraction. The descent was pretty steep, icy, and without any alternative way down. Somehow I made it without falling. Behind the bridge the ground levelled a bit, and the snow on the path gradually became less and less compacted.
I walked through a park-like forest, with a golf course behind the trees on my right, and spectacular view of the snowy Lairig Ghru in the backdrop. Then I spotted a couple of low-flying aeroplanes I’d never seen before passing by behind the trees. They returned some time later when I was walking through the open space and I managed to take some photos. The path ran mostly along the railway, never far away from it, nicely winding through pleasant landscape. It changed about 2 miles before Boat of Garten, when the path joined a wider farm track that ran under the railway to the other side and then along through a huge glade. The track, going slightly up, was covered with wet and extremely slippery ice while on both sides there was quite deep and wet snow. Either choice was bad. Almost inevitably I slipped and fell, trying to protect a camera I’d held in my hand; it survived intact at the expense of a bruised knee. Thankfully that menace soon ended, the track became clearer and eventually turned into tarmac road leading to the centre of Boat of Garten. There I got a cup of freshly ground coffee, served by a lovely lady in the shop/post office at a reasonable price of £1.20. I sat outside the shop, basking in the February sunshine and enjoying my coffee. After that nice break I headed through the village along Spey Avenue, then I turned right, crossed the river Spey and followed the road leaving the village. At its far end the route went into a forest, part of Abernethy National Nature Reserve. Almost instantly, on the other side of the forest car park, the path was beautifully and comfortably free of any snow or ice. The sun was shining through the leaves-less trees, birds were chirping cheerfully; the only disturbance was an occasional car passing by on the road running parallel nearby. Some time later I crossed that road and after a while I reached a wide and long glade; the path there was narrow, ‘fenced’ by quite tall heather on both sides, and – obviously – covered with slippery ice. Not to mention it was going up. Thankfully this time I tackled that staying upright. Some time later I entered the village of Nethy Bridge. By the path there was a very inviting bench facing a pool, now completely frozen over and covered with snow as well as its surroundings. This was the perfect spot and time for lunch.
After that incredibly pleasant break in the sunshine and continued towards the centre of the village, crossed the bridge over the river Nethy (which starts in the glen between Bynack Mhor and Cairn Gorm) and immediately turned left, then a couple of hundred yards turned right into a former railway, with the train station turned into a bunkhouse on my right hand side. From there the walk was straightforward, rather uneventful but nonetheless pleasant. A few miles later I came close to Grantown-on-Spey, where the route left the railway track and then crossed the very busy A95. To my surprise the route on the other side ran away from the village. But soon it turned back and I crossed the river Spey via the so-called Old Bridge, and then along a tarmac road with the river on my left and nice houses on the right. Eventually I left the road and went through a forest using a wide forest track, leading directly to the village.